I recently visited a local pub in my adopted city of Pittsburgh where I found myself amidst a unique conversation with a fellow patron about the service industry. Like myself, he spent some time in the restaurant business, but he developed an abstract view of the industry. He described it as ‘career purgatory.’

Now, I spent a good while conversing with this man about the industry, his pessimistic view of it (as well as mine), but I won’t bore you with the details rather I’d like to redefine the fellow’s expression towards the negative side of this business.

To be quite frank, the career purgatory sediment is relatively accurate. His POV on the subject was directed towards the addictive side of the industry; the money one can make serving/bartending is highly addictive and for a chef the adrenaline from a rush can be equally habit forming. In a few short months one can find themselves completely immersed in the industry, whether it is through the comfort of their workplace (your work family becomes your family) or through quick promotions. It is an easy profession to in, layman’s terms, ‘fall into.’

open kitchen


However, I do not believe that is necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I completely disagree with the point this gentleman was trying to make. His notion that just being in the service industry is career purgatory is flawed. Yes, this business is layered with employees that didn’t expect to stay in it for such an extended period of time, but is that such a bad thing. Especially, when you consider that most individuals in the workforce are entertaining jobs that have entirely nothing to do with neither their intended fields of study nor their original career path. Granted most front-of-house staff fall into this category only because most servers/bartenders are working part-time, multiple jobs, or still attending school. So, it is commonplace to see more FOH employees distraught with their current job(s) and career situations because their positions are slightly unstable. However, overworked and stressed is far from the ideal of purgatory, which resonate the idea of stagnancy.


On the other side, most chefs go to culinary school and whole-heartedly intend to work in this profession. Surely, those individuals do not view their lives in a stagnant state. Yet, what about the individuals like me, who worked their way up from dishwasher to chef? I highly doubt that most of them consider themselves to be ‘stuck.’ Rather, I’d reckon most consider themselves lucky to formulate a profession out of what was a situational working position.

Aside, from the routine critique we all take while reflecting on our lives – that feeling of being ‘stuck’ is normal. With that being said, this concept of career purgatory really comes from the individual – who allowed themselves to become trapped. It is a perspective and one I can sympathize with especially in this industry. Most of us had other plans or dreams and then suddenly we found ourselves working the same late night shifts, fighting insomnia, missing out on family events, and then before we knew it years have passed us by. We should be sad about such luckless circumstances, right?

To Hell with that, one of the main reasons most of us in this industry find ourselves pitying our career choice is a direct influence of how most customers /people view our industry. For whatever reason, being a thirty, forty year old server has a negative stigma. Unless, you’re at a recognizable restaurant then you’re more than just a waiter. Same goes for the men/women on the line unless someone can relate to the name on the restaurant menu than you’re not a chef, in most people’s eyes, instead you’re just a cook. It is an amazing sociological connotation that comes more from a lack of understanding most individuals have for this industry.

Allegheny Country Club dishwasher, Ray Schroeder  Photo Cred - Robert Span, ACC Chef
Allegheny Country Club dishwasher, Ray Schroeder
Photo Cred – Robert Span, ACC Chef


They view it as a lesser profession. Thus when the hardships of our daily work routines pile up and we allow ourselves to fall into the reflective narrative of our own suppressed thoughts then yes, absolutely that fledging feeling of lost time can arise. The reality of this perception – one that is projected on us workers in the service industry more than it should be – is that it is false. Majority of the population never have worked in the restaurant business or have they stayed in the service industry long enough to fully grasp the culture of it. Most, worked at an Einstein Bagels or an Irish pub for a summer and moved on – never truly appreciating the beauty of this industry.

It is addictive, it has long hours, there is no social clout to your job title, but it is one of the few industries that allow someone to form a career where there wasn’t  an opportunity before. When you graduated college and couldn’t find a job, the service industry took you in. When your Fortune 500 Company folded, the restaurant business had a ‘Help Wanted’ sign in the window. When you needed to continue to put food on the table for your family, this industry was there – that doesn’t sound like purgatory to me. It sounds like an American dream; it sounds like quite the opposite of career purgatory. Regardless, of the absence of appreciation for the job titles we have in this industry I do not, for one second, believe any of us should share this stale state of mind. This industry and profession may never prescribe prolific career titles for us, the profession my never love us back, but it is one of the few careers that benefit the hard-workers who occupy it. In truth, this industry takes care of the diligent ones and let’s be honest anyone who believes being in the service industry is career purgatory must not be all that diligent.